“You want to know what hurts?” Artisan Barber’s founder Charlie McCoy asked on a recent busy Saturday afternoon when the topic of conversation in his Upper East Side shop turned to work-related injuries. Answering his own question, he replied: “everything hurts.”
Like most barbers, painters, and anyone who spends long bouts of time on their feet with their arms raised, Charlie experiences lower back pain and discomfort in his shoulders and neck. Predictably, as someone whose job involves standing for hours, his feet are also an issue. But Charlie’s problems are compounded by an abnormality.
“Like most barbers, I’ve had problems with my feet and my knees,” Charlie said. “But on top of that, it turned out I had an abnormal toe that completely threw off my balance. One foot was weak, and I was putting pressure on the other one.”
And while a surgical procedure and custom orthotics helped, a big part of the problem was in how Charlie (and most barbers) work – with his weight on one side, one arm handling sheers and clipper, and without breaks. He’s fatigued, but more importantly – out of balance.
Our muscular and skeletal systems are built with exquisite symmetry and are designed to work in balance. On your arms, your biceps contract, while your triceps stretch – and vice versa. So, if you’re like Charlie and put more weight on one side of your body for an extended period of time, chances are you’re out of alignment. This is the root cause of most repetitive work-related injuries.
Enter Jamal Coston, personal sports performance training coach and founder of Strength in Numbers. Observing Charlie as he worked on a client in the chair, Jamal noted that Charlie’s weight was more on his right side. “Since his weight is on his right, everything on that side is shorter compared to the left side. I need to get him to learn what it’s like to have his weight on his other side – how to get air into that side of his body.”
“What you have to realize when working with someone like Charlie who is doing the same thing all day, is that they’re developing patterns,” Jamal said. “And that’s a good thing. It allows him to do his job. But the problem come when he can’t get out of this pattern.”
To get Charlie out of his pattern, Jamal suggests that Charlie break up his day with a variety of periodic stretches aimed to increase flexibility, strength, and move air to his non-dominant side.
But before, Charlie even leaves home for work, Jamal suggests that he start his day with a 90/90 breathing drill.
90/90 Breathing Drill – Start with your back on the floor and your feet on a chair or low bench. In this position, press your heels down until you feel your hamstrings. Then lift and tuck your pelvis off the floor. Next, reach for ceiling and take deep breaths to fill your upper back with air. Now exhale fully to facilitate the abdominals and move further into a position of flexion.
Two rounds with five to six deep breaths each.
Now, Charlie is at work. On a typical day, he can expect to be on his feet between five and seven hours at a stretch. Jamal suggests breaks up his shift periodically with variety of physical stretches aimed to encourage the kind of physical variability that will ease Charlie’s pain, and prevent further injury.
The following five stretches can be done throughout Charlie’s shift during breaks that he should be scheduling into his day. Each stretch can take just a few minutes.
Inchworm - Start standing, walk your hands out until you are into a pushup position maintaining a neutral spine, then slowly inch your feet in with slightly bent legs allowing your hips to rise.
Repeat for five to eight reps.
Crab Walk - Begin on all fours (reversed), feet flat on the ground, arms externally rotated and palms flat, weight should be distributed evenly through the foot and palm. Using a contralateral (opposite arm to leg) motion, begin to move the leg and the opposite arm backwards in a reverse crawling motion. This should be a slow and controlled movement aiming to keep the hips high.
World’s Greatest Stretch - Start in a push up position, bring your right foot up to replace your right hand, leaving both hands on the inside of your leg. Give yourself an inhale filling up your upper back with air, then exhale and reach your right arm to the sky.
Repeat three times on each side of your body.
Half-Kneeling Hamstring Hold - Start on one knee with your arms reaching forward. Tuck your back foot and bring your knee slightly off the ground, hold for 20-30 seconds while your front foot pulls the floor towards you. You will know if you are doing the correctly when you feel the front hamstring fire up!
Elevated Bear Hold - In this position, we have the client focus on reaching through the floor with arms and legs while tucking the tail. He or she raises the knees off the ground and takes deep breaths to fill the upper back with air, and exhales fully to facilitate the abdominals and move further into a position of flexion. All fours are one of the most effective ways to inhibit excessive tone of extensor muscles like the lumbar erectors and lats that we have.
Two rounds with five to six deep breaths each.
Bobby McGuire / Jamal Coston@strengthinnumbers